Dr. Andrew Weyrich, President, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
When I get behind the wheel, I like to put on a little driving music. And since August, I’ve had quite a few chances to learn new tunes.
That’s when we launched our 77 for 77 campaign at OMRF. In honor of the foundation’s 77th birthday, we’ve mapped out a plan to travel to all 77 counties in Oklahoma before we turn 78. The idea is to thank all the people who’ve supported us through the years and also to forge new bonds with folks who may not know about OMRF.
As of New Year’s, we’ve made it to more than 20 counties. Even though we have scores of communities yet to come, it’s already been gratifying and tremendously fun to make so many connections and to learn about the ways OMRF has touched lives across the state.
Along the way, my wife, Amy, has been putting together an Oklahoma playlist. For instance, when we headed to Beckham County, she added “Wichita Lineman” and a few other Jimmy Webb songs. And because Roger Miller also grew up there, she included “King of the Road.” (I mean, how could she not?)
But the melodies go beyond our van’s stereo.
In Guymon, Dr. Martin Bautista was kind enough to host us, and he helped gather a big crowd of supporters and people interested in learning more about OMRF. One of western Oklahoma’s most accomplished gastroenterologists, he surprised us by displaying a decidedly non-medical talent: He opened the evening with a bang-up rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Ol’ Blue Eyes would’ve been proud.
Still, my favorite musical moment came from Dr. Earl Mabry. We met Dr. Mabry just after Thanksgiving in Enid, where he established his dental practice on the heels of World War II.
Dr. Mabry had served as a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and he’d also go on to do so for the Army and Air Force. In between military assignments, he cared for patients in northwestern Oklahoma and raised a family that would grow to include nine children.
You’d think this would have been more than enough to fill his days and nights. But Dr. Mabry didn’t feel life was complete without music.
Growing up in Altus, he played the saxophone and clarinet in a traveling orchestra that took shape in, of all places, a local barbershop. They performed jazz and big-band pieces throughout the western part of the state, booking for “whoever wanted a 10-piece orchestra,” he says. The money “wasn’t great,” but for a high-school kid, “it was more than working at an ice cream shop.”
When he settled in Enid, Dr. Mabry met several other medical professionals who also played instruments. They began getting together to practice jazz standards in one physician’s basement, and when word got out in the medical community, the “Doctors’ Band” started booking gigs.
As dentists and physicians, they were accustomed to getting paid for their services, and this was no different, said Dr. Mabry. “The first time someone invited us to play for them, we gave them a price and took their money.” However, each time the band got paid, they donated it all to OMRF.
Dr. Mabry doesn’t recall why, exactly, he and his bandmates chose OMRF as their charitable beneficiary. But his son Dr. James Mabry (like his dad, an Enid dentist) believes it stemmed from OMRF’s founding campaign: In the late 1940s, health professionals around the state raised funds to build a new medical research foundation.
The ensemble stayed together for more than half a decade, then disbanded around the time the elder Dr. Mabry was called back into military service. After he returned, he channeled all of his musical energy into the organ, an instrument he played into his 80s.
Dr. Mabry turns 104 this month. During our visit, I learned that in all this time, he’s never been to OMRF. So, of course, I invited him, along with his wife, Carol, and his son. I wanted this jazz-loving donor and his family to see the place the Doctors’ Band had helped create.
When they accepted, it was music to my ears.
Dr. Andrew Weyrich is the president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. OMRF’s 77 for 77 tour resumes on Jan. 18 in Miami, Oklahoma. For more details, go to www.omrf.org/77.